“I think that is an issue that is not for the Government to decide at this time in our country. It is an issue that the people must decide and it is one that therefore may require a referendum to get the views of the people. Our personal views are not good enough,” she said.
She continued: “And it is in that regard we have held this in abeyance for the time being given the very divided views in Trinidad and Tobago at this time.”
She was responding to questions during an interview with Washington-based radio hostess, Lakshmi Singh, during the Trinidad and Tobago Investment Conference at Pratt House, Manhattan, New York. Singh noted that gay rights advocates have been intensifying their campaign in the Caribbean to decriminalise their sexuality and she questioned “what has been your Government’s specific response to this growing trend?”
Persad-Bissessar responded: “That’s a very touchy, a very sensitive issue.” She noted that before this current administration came into office there was a gender policy that was produced “which has not seen the light of day because the previous government faced many persons who were against it — issues for decriminalising gays”.
She said the current Government “picked it up and dusted it off” and put it out for discussions “but again we faced tremendous opposition especially from the Roman Catholic group”.
Questioned later by the Trinidad and Tobago media if a referendum is legally possible she responded “at this moment no it is not legally possible”.
“The draft gender policy came to the Cabinet (and) discussed at length, (but) as I’m saying given the very divided voices in Trinidad and Tobago it would not be prudent for Government to proceed in that direction,” she said.
Pressed on whether the decriminalisation was being considered she repeated “it would not be prudent to proceed in that direction at this time”.
“It’s too divided. There’s no consensus on an issue as sensitive as that,” she added.
The Trinidad-based lesbians, gay, bisexuals and transsexual (LGBT) lobby group Coalition for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) has been campaigning since 2011 for the decriminalisation of homosexual behaviour.
In May this year Jamaican attorney Maurice Tomlinson, who is gay, was granted special leave by the Caribbean Court of Justice to commence proceedings against Belize and Trinidad and Tobago on their immigration laws banning entry to homosexuals.
As an activist for the LGBT community, Tomlinson had travelled to both countries previously, but when he discovered the existence of the prohibitions he decided to refuse invitations from either country to avoid violating their immigration laws “and he claims to have suffered prejudice thereby”. A date is to be set for the actual trial.